I have been a long time admirer of Gerald Wingrove and his 1/15 scale classic car models, – www.wworkshop.net is well worth a look. Gerald has been England’s foremost model maker for the past four decades. The subjects of Gerald’s work have principally been the classic cars – Rolls Royce, Bugatti, Duesenberg, Bentley, Hispano Suiza and Cord. He has also made some racing cars especially Alfa Romeo and some Alfa Romeo roadsters too, not to mention the Bugatti Type 59. Gerald’s wife Phyllis, has always been in the background converting the data into drawings on the computer and lending a hand at a variety of model making tasks, having become a proficient helper in all areas, being helped by the children in the early years.
Gerald having taken over the role of providing a series of models for the National Motor Museum (NMM) in Beaulieu (England) during the 1970’s, these very same models were relatively recently auctioned-off at about the time Gerald retired from auto model making to concentrate on his first love, ship building. Amongst this collection for NMM were a series of 1/20 Formula One cars of the 1970’s, however it is his later 1/15 scale collection of classic cars that enabled his artistry to come to it’s peak of perfection and desirability.
After the NMM commission was underway, Gerald divided his time as freelance model maker between one-off commissions and contract work for toy companies, also finding time to produce the 25 foot square diorama depicting work on two ships at Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu river in 1803, displayed at the local maritime museum down in Hampshire, UK.
Returning to the 1/15 scale classic cars that Gerald is most well known for, it is a rare thing to see a ‘Wingrove’ in the flesh as it were, for they were usually pre-sold and remain in collector’s hands and seldom come to market, being auctioned by Bonhams for example. For this reason, I was truly privileged to see some examples recently and view what some have considered to be likened to the ‘Faberge eggs’ of the automobile model world. Perhaps Gerald’s favourite subjects are the Duesenbergs, however each has it’s own charm and point of interest whether it’s the style of the Duesenberg dual cowl phaeton or the majesty of a Rolls Royce, perhaps the complexity of the Bugatti chassis alongside the rather unusual Bugatti engine, then there’s the sculptural quality of the Alfa Romeos, the racing feel of the Bugatti Type 59 or the Alfa Romeo P3. Also there’s the modern art styling of the American Cord cars and the robust business-like presence of the Blower Bentley – whatever the car, the key thing is getting the ‘look’ right for many a modeller has been able to create a dimensionally correct and detail-perfect miniature without the character and presence of the original. Gerald’s second-to-none abilities as a model engineer remain subservient to the bottom line of creating a replica in scale that has that right look. Anticipating what the human eye ‘expects to see’ in the detail, there’s enough detail along with that ‘right look’, that when you are looking at a photograph of the model without scale, you are not sure if it could be the original car – remarkable. There is another quality about Gerald’s work which is the efficiency with which he works, able to produce patterns and tools to make the myriad of parts quickly and efficiently. Gerald has confidently spent several happy weeks even months developing tools and patterns for each project that enables that project to be put into effect quickly and efficiently, producing several of any one item and spares too, in order to complete short runs for his eager customers. These abilities come from his early life in light-engineering on the lathe in particular where all manner of bespoke and mass-produced precision items were demanded. Then with self-taught efficiency he was able to put this experience to good effect when ‘work study’ and ‘piecework’ were introduced in the 1950’s. It was some time in the 1960’s that Gerald went freelance to pursue his own lines of interest within the miniature world, offering his skills to any who would value them which led into film prop and toy company contract work etc.
Gerald’s skills are expanded to include a full-range of innovative tools he has made for each project including specialist soldering irons, welding equipment, louvre punches, rolling devices etc, always looking for new ways of improving the techniques of actually making the models. The end result is solid, quality-weighty models with opening doors, working door latches crafted from metal with operating handles, spring loaded engine covers in many cases (to assist with their opening) and fully detailed chassis, wire wheels etc. The non-rotating wheels prevent the miniature from being considered a toy and reduces the chance of such an expensive item rolling off a slightly inclined surface. Automotive paint finishes, real glass and resin/wood seats made to look like leather complete the effect along with fully detailed dashboard, nickel and chrome plated parts and multi-part pewter cast engine blocks etc.
I have been inspired by Gerald’s work for about twenty years certainly since the beginning of the millennium when I acquired copies of his four books on the subject, which are now out of print (The Complete Car Modeller 1 and 2, Haynes, 1978 and 1991 respectively; The Model Cars of Gerald Wingrove, New Cavendish Books 1979; Art of the Automobile in Miniature, Crowood 2003). I cited Gerald’s work as an inspiration to press-onward with my own aspirations on page 21 of my first photo book, ‘MRO F1 Engineering – the first twenty years’. Other inspirations have been John Shinton who I have known for a long time and recently Rex Hays whose work I came across in a little book called ‘Trophy by Tribute’ (Macgibbon and Kee, 1958). This latter book details the life of this English car model maker since schoolboy days before WW1 producing the first collection of miniature cars for Lord Montagu at Beaulieu, the collection finally giving way to the updated 1/20 series provided by Gerald Wingrove starting in the late 60’s (evolution of the sports cart from 1913 and the F1 World Championship cars). Meeting Gerald and seeing his work close up and having him sign my books has been most inspiring. The most current relevant inspiration to my own preference of modelling Formula One cars remains Andy Mathews from the USA (check that out on the web or on page 21 of my first photo book).
I remain super-impressed by all that Gerald has made and this opportunity to view some of his cars for real brought his well written and detailed books to life (www.wworkshop.net).
If anything I have made brings pleasure and a degree of wonder, do give God the glory and praise, for it is merely the talent He has given, that I am exercising. Amongst the F1 designs I have incorporated as wall tiles in my workspace, are two with the Bible texts John 3 v 16 and Romans 10 v 9 which help me keep my mind focussed on what really matters. Do give them a read. These models are built as one-off, hopefully unique cars of the 1970's mainly (some late 60's and fewer 90's/later) which are not for sale and are part of a personal collection. I am unable to accept commissions due to lack of time and over indulgent approach. They are museum-display and are not in any sense 'working models'. I have built 1/12 scale F1 models almost exclusively, each being in the order of 12-14" (30-36cm) long. My aim is to increase in a small way the 1/12 scale representation of Grand Prix car entries to the F1 World Championship that are not available commercially as kits to be built. They are to be retained as indefinite loans to museums for others to enjoy, for one's home is never large enough. The models perhaps represent my desire to own the the full-scale car, yet that is not feasible or practical (unless you are Bernie Ecclestone) and each of my models feels like the real thing to me, having often spent so much time with the actual car. The photographs of the original cars were taken by special permission and in respect of the owner of the actual GP car or race 'shop owner are not available for further distribution, nor are my own engineering drawings. The models are built with the idea of 'no effort spared' and to look as realistic as possible. I will go to eccentric and sometimes otherwise unreasonable lengths to replicate every detail of design and engineering in order to satisfy myself that I have something properly accurate. This includes the concept that all bodywork should be removable in the same way as on the full-size car and therefore reveal the engineering within; additionally the underneath of the car is modelled, for there is much to be enjoyed regarding 'how it all works' from seeing what is not normally visible. I have felt that in this way, these models may serve to educate interested folk as to what makes a Grand Prix car 'tick', for such rare access to the real thing, makes this aspect somewhat mysterious. I have shown some of those I consider the better models at shows, but do so relatively infrequently due to the effort and logistics of getting to often far-flung venues, not to mention the accelerated ageing effect on the models themselves, in transporting them. Inspiration comes from the great model makers such as Henri Baigent, Gerald Wingrove, also my friends involved in the same hobby and in particular folk like John Shinton here in the UK and especially Andy Matthews from America who produces 'gems', which are wonderful to study. Hopefully that covers everything; now all it remains is to enjoy! MRO, August 2010